Senators Working Toward Mental Health Reform Vote Before August Recess

Senators are still looking for a path forward on a floor vote for mental health legislation before the August recess, an effort that requires determining how to pay for the bill and how to deal with a controversial gun reform amendment.

According to Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that the bill could be brought to the floor this summer if it requires minimum floor time and few amendment votes.

The two biggest hurdles to that are a bill from number two Senate Republican John Cornyn of Texas, which touches on gun rights, and how to pay for the legislation, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Ct.) said Thursday after hosting a mental health “summit” with Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) to drum-up attention on the stalled bill. Murphy said he and Cassidy were working with Senate Finance to find ways to pay for the bill.

Cassidy said work to get the bill to the floor was going “fairly well,” but that negotiations with Cornyn are still ongoing. Cornyn said a consensus package combining his legislation and the HELP bill could happen “pretty quickly.”

“The Democrats are not interested in dealing with gun violence from a mental health perspective, and we’re willing to make some concessions there in order to get the bigger package, but we’re not willing to give up the second amendment rights of law abiding citizens including their due process rights,” Cornyn said.

The Finance Committee’s work focuses on removing a Medicaid regulation that limits the number of mental health and substance abuse beds that hospitals can have while still qualifying for federal funding. The committee is “working hard to find offsets,” which is also something the members are waiting on, Murphy said.

Murphy said he’d be disappointed if the bill didn’t remove that exclusion.

“What I’ve said from the beginning, I think the bill gets harder to justify without any additional resources, but I’ve certainly never said it’s not worth doing,” he said.

Another option could be to work in a bill from Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) that would expand the number of states participating in a federal demo program to increase mental health clinics.

“The IMD exclusion is expensive. Expanding out the Blunt-Stabenow proposal is not as expensive,” Murphy said. “So that gives you a little bit of a hint as to what might be more possible on the floor.”

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